My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the powerful case made for the independence of HealthWatch England by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and by noble friends on these Benches. It is a mystery to me why, in the face of a genuine commitment by successive Governments to public and patient involvement, we have made such a mess of it thus far. I am not one who looks back on the work of community health councils as some kind of nirvana. As someone who was briefly a chief officer of a CHC, I know that they were very patchy and variable in quality. However, they had a strong national voice, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey in that regard.
Since then, we have struggled. I think that the failure of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health has made successive Governments frightened of setting up one of these national organisations. It has put them off having a national body to support local groups, to help them to develop successfully and to help them when they are in difficulties, as well as provide a national, challenging voice for patients. Will HealthWatch England, as currently envisaged, be this missing national body? I am afraid that at present the answer is certainly no. As a committee of the CQC-an organisation for which I have the highest regard-it will not be independent or accountable to the patients and public it represents, and its links with local healthwatch organisations, which we will discuss later, will be very variable and often not sufficiently robust for them to be in full receipt of the amount and range of information that they need. We simply must have a proper governance structure with an independent, publicly appointed chair. Surely the independence of the whole organisation is essential to how it will provide the strong voice for patients that everyone involved say they want.